HomeLegal ColumnsAn Analysis of the The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986

An Analysis of the The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986


In the light of the principles of Justice, Liberty and Equality forming the basis of various laws and policy measures adopted by the Government of any Democratic Nation, this article seeks to analyse The National Child Labour Project (NCLP) Scheme.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, democracy, is “a system of government in which all the people of a state or polity are involved in making decisions about its affairs, typically by voting to elect representatives to a parliament or similar assembly.” The term originates from the Greek word “demokratia” meaning the “rule of the people”, which was formed from the two words “demos” (people) and “kratos” (power or rule), in the 5th century BC to denote the political systems then existing in Greek city-states, notably Athens; the term is an antonym to “aristokratía” meaning “rule of an elite”.

From the outset, the Indian government was primarily seen as an indispensable means of establishing and promoting certain universally recognized public values, such as justice, equality, and liberty. And today, as citizens, we need to recognize in government what the founding fathers saw in it: that it is the only institution we can rely on to nourish and protect these kinds of values in our society.[1]

To really appreciate the unique role that government plays in promoting these basic political principles, we need to take a more careful look at some of these key values and see how they can be ensured only by government and how they are embodied in particular legislations and policies.

The most obvious manifestation of this is the criminal and civil justice system. It is the primary way we as a society ensure that criminals are punished and that wrongs are righted. This kind of legal justice is not something that can be reliably provided by the private sector. We would not want, for instance, for there to be a market in legal justice. We would not want this justice to be something provided to the highest bidder.[2]


Steps taken to fight child labour

A childhood which is full of sufferings, when one has more work than playing time, when all one cares for is that his employer should be happy so that he should be paid in time could be a nightmare for anyone. Unfortunately our society has been contributing to this sin and in spite of all the efforts made by the government nothing substantial could have been done.

There has been various provisions in our constitution itself which provides safeguards to children against child labour.

The Indian Constitution enshrines that:

  1. No child below the age of 14 years shall be employed to work in any factory or in any hazardous employment (Article 24).
  2. Childhood and youth are to be protected against exploitation and against moral and material abandonment (Article 39(f)).
  3. The state shall endeavor to provide within a period of 10 years from the commencement of the Constitution free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of 14 years (Article 45).[4]

India soon realized that only presence of these articles in the constitution were never going to help because child labour was something rooted deep inside  the society and was a part of a vicious cycle of poverty , hence needed much more attention and better approach. There have been specific legislations aimed at curbing the problem, and punishing the offenders.

Government has also been  considerate about the future of children who are made free from such bonded labour and had no place to go and means to survive . Several social programmes for the rehabilitation for children who are rescued from child labour are run at the central and state level. In recent years, there has been a major emphasis on providing basic education for all children, which is a long-term answer to this social menace as it was felt that education was the only too which could be helpful in putting an end to this vicious cycle in a long run.

The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 was enacted to clearly lay down the regulations related to child labour. It  is one the most debated acts regarding children in India. It outlines where and how children can work and where they cannot. The provisions of the act are meant to be acted upon immediately after the publication of the act, except for part III that discusses the conditions in which a child may work.[5]

In 1988, the government of India launched the National Child Labour Project (NCLP).First this was implemented in nine districts with a high concentration of child labour. The scheme involves establishment of special schools for child labour who are withdrawn from work. Over the years this program has been refined and improved. It now addresses multiple aspects of the problem, such as offering and improving:

  • Vocational training
  • Public education
  • Economic opportunities for poor families

These special schools provided formal and informal education along with vocational training, and also provided a monthly stipend. Other facilities such as supplementary nutrition and health care are also provided to such children. The number of districts covered under the NCLP Scheme were increased to 100 in the 9th five-year plan and further increased to 250 in the 10th plan.

On August 15, 1994, the government of India launched a major program to remove child labour working in hazardous occupations, and to rehabilitate them by setting up special schools for them. Under the programme, a total of two million children were expected to be brought out of work and put in special schools where they are provided with education, vocational training, monthly stipends, nutrition and health-checks.

A highly powerful body, the National Authority for the Elimination of Child Labour (NAECL) was established on September 26, 1994, headed by the Union Minister of Labour in the government of India.

There are credible efforts being made at the administrative level to eliminate the problem of child labour. Also, there are several voluntary organizations working for the rescue and rehabilitation of child labour in India.

Education for all children is the key that can bring about a fundamental change and help to end the problem permanently. A collective public and governmental effort on various fronts will eventually lead to the complete eradication of child labour menace from India.

How far has been these law effective.

Although the laws in India enacted to curb child labour were brought into action in utmost good faith yet there were several loop holes which never allowed these laws to be implemented effectively.

The act although prohibited working of children under the age of 14 in hazardous job  But it legalized children of this age to be working in any other kind of job which legalized such children working as domestic helps and children being employed in hotel or “dhabas” basically the act of 1986 legalized child labour in all cases except those listed in the schedule.[3]

Above all Children above 14 had no specific protection at all , the Indian noble laureate ,Kailash Satyarshi who was honoured with the nobel price for fighting the same cause has also been time and again reiterating that child labour is something which is very deep rooted in our society and can only be curb with public support.

According to the amendment made in the act a child can perform work that “helps his family or family enterprise, which is other than any hazardous occupations or processes set forth in the Schedule, after his school hours or during vacations.”

The problem with this clause is its implementation as nothing has been prescribed to keep a check on this clause and to ensure that this provision was nor exploited . The joint committee of the two houses of the Indian parliament which went through the bill line by line said:

“The Committee are not able to understand as to how the Ministry proposes to keep a check on children working in their homes. The Ministry is itself providing loopholes by inserting this proviso since it would be very difficult to make out whether children are merely helping their parents or are working to supplement the family income.”

In spite all the drawbacks there have success stories too , a large number of NGO have been working diligently for the cause, courts have been taking issues related to child labour and at several instances the convicts have been punished which creates strong deterrence, an overall awareness has also been seen in recent years and people today are more ready to fight for the same. The success of schools in urban India.

It’s in urban areas that the fight against child labor in India has been the most successful – beginning early on in the 1990s. Cities are indeed easier to monitor and laws are easier to implement there. Cities have also reaped most of the benefits from globalization and the opening of trade borders in India. Simply put, they got richer. And as a result an ever-growing proportion of urban children have started going to school as well.

Outside cities, schooling costs represent the other main obstacle to education in India and explain the failure of making education more accessible. More than ever, poverty in India remains the  main reason for kids not going to school. When comparing incomes, you can see that the cost of urban schools is much lower for their local residents, than rural schools are for rural Indians. Most importantly, the job prospects are infinitely better in cities than in rural India. Despite a growing body of research producing statistics on child labor in India, there is still a massive lack of data and studies concerning Indian children living in slums – far from being proper cities and yet much closer to urban life.

Underlying Philosophy

The term ‘child labour’, is best defined as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development. It refers to work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children, or work whose schedule interferes with their ability to attend regular school, or work that affects in any manner their ability to focus during war and clubs, school or experience a healthy childhood.

UNICEF defines child labour differently. A child, suggests UNICEF, is involved in child labour activities if between 5 and 11 years of age, he or she did at least one hour of economic activity or at least 28 hours of domestic work in a week, and in case of children between 12 and 14 years of age, he or she did at least 14 hours of economic activity or at least 42 hours of economic activity and domestic work per week. UNICEF in another report suggests, “Children’s work needs to be seen as happening along a continuum, with destructive or exploitative work at one end and beneficial work – promoting or enhancing children’s development without interfering with their schooling, recreation and rest – at the other. And between these two poles are vast areas of work that need not negatively affect a child’s development.”

India’s Census 2001 office, defines child labour as participation of a child less than 17 years of age in any economically productive activity with or without compensation, wages or profit. Such participation could be physical or mental or both. This work includes part-time help or unpaid work on the farm, family enterprise or in any other economic activity such as cultivation and milk production for sale or domestic consumption. Indian government classifies child labourers into two groups: Main workers are those who work 6 months or more per year. And marginal child workers are those who work at any time during the year but less than 6 months in a year.

Some child rights activists argue that child labour must include every child who is not in school because he or she is a hidden child worker. UNICEF, however, points out that India faces major shortages of schools, classrooms and teachers particularly in rural areas where 90 percent of child labour problem is observed. About 1 in 5 primary schools have just one teacher to teach students across all grades.

After its independence from colonial rule, India has passed a number of constitutional protections and laws on child labour. The Constitution of India in the Fundamental Rights and the Directive Principles of State Policy prohibits child labour below the age of 14 years in any factory or mine or castle or engaged in any other hazardous employment (Article 24). The constitution also envisioned that India shall, by 1960, provide infrastructure and resources for free and compulsory education to all children of the age six to 14 years. (Article 21-A and Article 45).

India has a federal form of government, and labour being a subject in the Concurrent List, both the central and state governments can and have legislated on child labour. The major national legislative developments include the following:

The Factories Act of 1948: The Act prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 years in any factory. The law also placed rules on who, when and how long can pre-adults aged 15–18 years be employed in any factory.

The Mines Act of 1952: The Act prohibits the employment of children below 18 years of age in a mine.

The Child and Adolescent Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986: The Act prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 years in hazardous occupations identified in a list by the law. The list was expanded in 2006, and again in 2008. In 2016, the Act was amended (not in force as of 30 July 2016) to prohibit employment of child below 14 years in all occupation (except for helping in non-hazardous family business and of child artists in the entertainment industry and sports). Further, adolecent between 14-18 years will not be allowed to work in hazardous industries and processes.

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) of Children Act of 2000: This law made it a crime, punishable with a prison term, for anyone to procure or employ a child in any hazardous employment or in bondage.

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act of 2009: The law mandates free and compulsory education to all children aged 6 to 14 years. This legislation also mandated that 25 percent of seats in every private school must be allocated for children from disadvantaged groups and physically challenged children.

India formulated a National Policy on Child Labour in 1987. This Policy seeks to adopt a gradual & sequential approach with a focus on rehabilitation of children working in hazardous occupations. It envisioned strict enforcement of Indian laws on child labour combined with development programs to address the root causes of child labour such as poverty. In 1988, this led to the National Child Labour Project (NCLP) initiative. This legal and development initiative continues, with a current central government funding of Rs. 6 billion, targeted solely to eliminate child labour in India. Despite these efforts, child labour remains a major challenge for India. No, child below age of 14 years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or engaged in any hazardous employment.

[1] Smrutisikha,”Problem Of Child Labour In India” available at http://www.yourarticlelibrary.com  (visited on September 21)

[2] The Child Labour (Prohibition And Regulation ) Act,1986 available at http://childlineindia.org.in (visited on September 21)

[3] Stilrling Smith “India New Child Labour Laws- Forward Or Backward? “Ethical Training Initiative available at http://www.ethicaltrade.org/blog/  August 1 2016

[4] DOUGLAS J. AMY, Government as the Champion of Justice, Equality, Freedom, and Security, http://www.governmentisgood.com/articles.php?aid=12

[5] LABIB ZUWIYYA -YAMAK, Liberty, Equality, and Democracy- A fresh inquiry into some paradoxes of freedom. https://isistatic.org/journal-archive/ma/05_01/zuwiyya.pdf

Law Wire Team
Law Wire Teamhttps://lawwire.in/
Law Wire Team attempts to delve into pertinent (and sometimes not immediately pertinent) questions regarding socio-politics, Law and their interesting matrix.

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